I was watching a Rowan Atkinson video this morning called God’s Mysterious Ways. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, it seems like a straight forward address but he’s clearly in character, as demonstrated by his wearing a dog collar. At the end he quotes Isaiah 55:8 My Ways are not your ways, which he then interprets as God saying to us “I’m mysterious folks, live with it”.
As Christians we are often guilty of speaking “for God”. Whether we like it or not we all read the Bible in different ways. Everyone of us is influenced in our reading by our upbringing and our social experiences and those are different for each of us. I’m 55 and my understanding of jesus and the Bible was that everyone in it was white. My children’s book of Bible stories was full of beautiful paintings of blue eyed western Europeans. I thought Moses looked like Charlton Heston and Jesus like Robert Powell. And then on the other side of that was Jesus Christ Superstar, a hippy retelling of the Gospel story. So in my head Jesus was this pale, ethereal, socialist hippy who sang songs I didn’t care for. 15 years older and you probably only got the first part of that. 15 plus years younger and you probably only got the socialist bit as priests in South America fought and died for physical support for the poor and disenfranchised against government corruption and the growing drug trade.
Equally translations change your understanding. The King James Bible sweeps you up in sometimes overwhelming grandeur with its Shakespearean use of language. Read something like the Passion Translation and you encounter a more grounded Bible, one where the people are more easily identifiable. Both have their place and their value but both are different and can lead you to differing understandings of scripture.
The problem with these different understandings is that they lead us to argue over minutiae. Like the Pharisees that Jesus spoke against we find ourselves speaking as if only we know what the Bible truly means, only we speak for God. When we do that we miss an important truth “I’m mysterious folks, live with it.”
If we ignore the mystery, the “fact” that God is bigger and more unknowable than we could even begin to imagine we risk venturing onto dangerous ground. Matthew 7: 21-23 tells us that some who claim to do things in God’s name will be turned away.
What is it like to connect with God through the mystery? In Matthew 18 Jesus talks of having faith like a child. Children accept that some things are mysteries, that certain things are beyond their understanding and they are okay with that because they are secure in the love of their parents. Is that perhaps what Jesus was trying to tell us? Accept the mystery and trust in God’s love?
I came to Jesus very late. Before I landed on his doorstep I had read many religious texts, Qu’ran, Tao te Ching, various books on Zen, the kjv Bible, the ancient myths of a dozen or more cultures, but Jesus was where I stopped. In part it was the people I met through church, but largely it was the mystery that drew me. The mystery that a God so big wanted to be friends with humanity, that a love so big could exist that it would die for me. The mystery that a 148 hour walk from Cairo to Jerusalem (Google maps even gives you directions) could take 40 years and God would be there the entire way.
The Bible is filled with mystery and we need to dive deeper into it. It’s amazing what you can learn by letting go of surety and accepting that somethings surpass our understanding.